Resources for writers

Book Covers SFOver my almost two decades of writing and (occasionally) publishing, I’ve learned some stuff. Lots of stuff, actually. Some of what I learned (such as a great place to buy a box for a manuscript) is out of date. However, there are some resources that budding writers should utilize that are still quite relevant, so here goes—

While a novel (or a short story or screen play) is still in the drafting stage, consider getting editorial help. Informally, there are many writer’s groups which offer support and critiques. If you live close enough, consider that as a first source of assistance and career development. I was once privileged to judge a short fiction contest held by the Northeast Georgia Writer’s Group, and all of the entries were quite worthy. The group is active, with contests and guest speakers. Many libraries sponsor such groups. There’s a great list of writer’s groups in Georgia at ReadersUnbound.com.

Depending on genre, there just may be a writer’s conference waiting for you. Such conferences usually feature guest speakers, workshops, and opportunities to meet with literary agents, who are the typical conduits between writers and publishers. I was fortunate to attend a few in nearby Athens (at the UGA campus) which was sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America, but there are a number of conferences, either general or targeting specific types of writing.

When the work is more or less complete, if there is no conventional publisher in the picture paying for it, an author seeking to self-publish or polish a manuscript for possible submission should really consider a paid editor. The Writer’s Digest magazine folks have an entire “store” devoted to such services. When I was working on my first novel, a publisher recommended that I go through a course with Writer’s Digest, and the experience taught me quite a lot about the value of editorial assistance.

Whether self-publishing a novel or developing a website and/or a social media publicity campaign, hiring a professional graphic artist is really important. For a web only publication, such as Kindle Direct, I might try the do it yourself method, but even then, it is good to use a site such as Canva.com. However, if there is any serious money going into the project, such as self-publishing in print or multiple platforms, then a cover artist is very helpful. Both The Gift Horse and the second edition of Trinity on Tylos have covers designed by an independent artist. There’s a list of cover artists over at The Creative Penn. By the way, I’d steer clear of Fiver. I tried that, and got nothing, not even a refund for my initial payment.

Once a book is in print or available as an eBook, most writers will want to help with marketing. This can be rather daunting for many writers. The publisher of The Gift Horse (Booklocker) has a companion site, Writer’s Weekly, which has some links to paying markets for shorter works, as well as articles about writing and marketing.

There are a lot of companies that offer “services” to authors. Be very careful to choose wisely, or money that should have been spent on editing and cover design will be frittered away on something else. While some of these resources have costs, others are cheap or even free. Regardless of how much money you spend, for a novelist the two most important resources are editing and cover design—in that order.

 

So you want to be a successful author—

book and moneyWhile I am pretty sure I don’t qualify as successful in the author department, I made enough mistakes to write (or rant) about the topic. Here are some tips, in no certain order, for those who are writing with the intent to publish a book, or for those who have published but are lacking in sales.

First, write the best book you possibly can. Yes, that should go without saying, but writing is like photography or cooking in that no matter how good you have done it, you can get better. There is no such thing as perfect in any of those endeavors. However, don’t publish unless it is really ready. Mistakes in print are embarrassing!

Next, find a real publisher if you can. Not necessarily one of the big companies (although if that happens for you, whoo hoo!) There are a lot of small and micro presses that can get a book into print and into at least some distribution channels, which leaves more time for the author to help with promotional activities and keep writing. A small company, Whiskey Creek Press, published my second novel, and while my sales were low, any money I spent on promotion was voluntary. My debut novel was initially accepted by a micro press, but when it failed, I ended up using a self-publisher called Booklocker.

Third, if you end up self-publishing, do so at minimal cost. Many authors have published via the Amazon Kindle Direct program, which is free. Yep, that’s right, free. I published the second edition of Trinity on Tylos via KDP, and my only expense was a fancy new cover by Dawn Seewer (which was entirely optional.) I disliked the first cover, which was done by an artist at Whiskey Creek Press, and I thought the book deserved a better effort, and Dawn did a great job for me. Another self publishing program that I am considering is Smashwords, which offers many free services. For most self published authors, the distribution channels associated with Smashwords are fantastic.

Fourth, once the book is ready to debut, get the marketing plan in motion. There are lots of books on this topic, as well as a gazillion websites. I’ve had some success with using Facebook groups, such as Ebook Rave, Kindle Book Authors, and Sci Fi and Fantasy Authors . Those have worked well in conjunction with sales and freebie promos, but bear in mind that I have low cost Kindle titles. Under “links of interest” on this site I have a few other spots that I’ve used for promotion, including “Book Goodies” and “Goodreads.” Having an author page on such sites is not necessary, of course, but doing so usually offers links for anyone who “googles” your author name.

Finally, the most important pillar in promotion is reviews, and lots of them.  If friends and family will write a review on a vendor site, such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble, that’s great, but most of us don’t have that many friends. Also, such reviews don’t carry as much cashé as a professional or semi-professional site. Do send your books to as many of those as you can find and afford. Don’t ever pay for a review, beyond giving a copy of the book. Paying for reviews is wrong on both sides of the equation. If the author pays for a review, then there’s a bias that makes the review worthless for the reader. Unless the book is an eBook only, then there is some expense in distribution of the ARC (that’s advanced reading copy) or published book, so it is best to send the book(s) to appropriate sites, because some sites only review certain genres. There are any number of review sites, and these do come and go fairly frequently. My first novel, The Gift Horse, had several reviews online within a year or two of publication, but apart from those on Amazon and one archived on The Midwest Book Review, they are gone! Therefore, if you get an online review, don’t just save the link, but archive the content, too!

When I first published The Gift Horse, I was invited to do some speeches to local clubs, and I sold a few books via that avenue, but as publishing and self-publishing became more common place, those opportunities dried up faster than blackberries in late August. I also got a book signing at a book store after Trinity on Tylos came out, but it was a very lonely afternoon. If those opportunities come your way, enjoy them, but books and eBooks must be purchased via online vendors in order to make any real money, and that means social media marketing. If you are here, clearly you know what a blog is, of course, and having an author website is usually a good idea. Marketing is an ever changing field, but as of this post, you must get to know Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other modern means of communication in order to build an audience for your books.

Oh, and as footnote to “finally” when readers like a book, they usually look for another book by the same author, so you’d best be writing another book, too.


A few books on marketing:

How to Market a Book

Guerrilla Marketing for Writers

The Frugal Book Promoter

Book Marketing 411 for Authors

And a couple on having a book worth the effort:

Don’t Sabotage Your Submission

Writing the Breakout Novel

Book selling for negative profit?

I’ve sold books online via Amazon (and I’ve listed on eBay also) for several years. Unless I got very, very lucky, I seldom made much money on those books. However, recently, I’ve seen negative profits. That’s right— the fees and postage are so high that Amazon is getting all the profit.

See this screen shot:

Amazon fees

Basically, the math isn’t in the seller’s favor here. For a $2.00 book sale, Amazon charged me $3.69 in fees, and for a $2.50 book sale, Amazon charged me $3.76. Even with the actual shipping cost being slightly less than the customer paid, I lost money, as I had to provide shipping materials and get the item to a post office. The only reason I got paid at all was the $6.56 book had a fee of $4.37. Sadly, since my state (Georgia) insists that Amazon collect sales tax on these used book sales, the buyer is not getting good value either. That book cost the buyer nearly $7, which is not a good deal for a used pamphlet.

Clearly, Amazon is not the best solution for book selling any more, so I removed all listings wherein the “fee” was as much or more than the book. Those will either be listed on eBay, or donated.

While I really love putting books into the hands of readers who will enjoy them, there is no sense in losing money to this relentless corporation.

iBooks and eBay—a winning combo

liver-rescue-apples

Apples and Apple, Inc.

As a reader of eBooks, I’ve been exploring new ways (and revisiting old ones) to view content. Recently, I saw a title touted on Facebook, and a quick look at eBay revealed several purchase options, including an eBook which was offered as a pdf file. I paid a golly whopping .99, and it arrived via email. Not quite as quick as Big A, but the seller offered pretty quick service. I tried reading the file via my email app, but that didn’t save my place, so I downloaded the file to iBooks. Winner, winner, but no chicken dinner. However, the iBooks app is a very good way to read a pdf file, and the app is easy to use, just like other, more well known ways to view eBook content. Certainly, the price was right, too.

When Big A (the relentless internet seller) decided to give me the old “heave, ho” I was a bit concerned about when and where I’d get new books to read, as I am not buying from them at the moment, but that fear has been allayed by the eBay and iBooks combination. The title I purchased is “Liver Rescue” which I won’t review, as I sincerely hope my readers don’t need it, but I’ll let you know that one way to help the liver is to eat lots of apples. Actually, I am very pleased to get a 500+ text for a buck, and the advice to eat a fruit I really like is welcome, also. Thanks eBay! And thanks to Apple, for making such an intuitive app for the iPad. Reading about apples on an Apple product is quite appropriate, isn’t it?

Earth Day

planetI have mixed emotions about this day, but I do like some of the promotions associated with it. There is a nifty kids’ consignment store over in Buford that is having a big sale today, urging their customers to buy used. For kids, that’s generally a win-win, as children’s clothing is often not worn out before it is out-grown, and as kids are hard on their clothes, cheaper options are better for play clothes. I noticed some emails from an online clothing vendor, which is offering sale prices and promotional buttons which say “used.” I’m not going so far as to wear one of those, regardless of how good buying and wearing pre-owned items is for the planet.

One of my friends works with elderly folk, doing both house-keeping and care-giving, and she recently brought me some bags of fairly nice clothing from a client who is downsizing. I’ve been going through those, listing some items on eBay, and setting aside some for charity. She was told to “get rid of them” by the client, so my friend had the choice of trash or wholesale charity, but she is a thrifty sort, as I am, so she went through them first. Some readers are going to say, “Yuck, I can’t imagine being that poor.” But, the truth is that neither of us is especially impoverished, but we do realize that the planet is better off when things are re-purposed or re-used.

In my kitchen, I have a compost bin, and I take it out regularly, adding to my compost pile in the back of my property. When I set out plants, I use the composted material for fertilizer, instead of using chemicals that aren’t good for me or the planet. When I’m away from home, I generally take a water bottle, rather than buying those. I use rags and towels when cleaning, rather than always using paper towels (which I can’t get hubby to do.) And, I’ve learned that Dawn+vinegar+water trumps most pricey cleaning products.

As a reader, I enjoy new and old books and magazines. These days, most of the content I read is in digital form, which sometimes saves significant amounts of cash, but it also prevents the waste associated with old or remaindered books. If you haven’t tried eBooks, this is a great time to take the plunge, as there is plenty of free and inexpensive content. Try the “Nook” app from Barnes and Noble, as it works quite well.

Earth Day is a chance to think or re-think consumption.

Not with a Whimper: Producers

D. A. Boulter was one of the first authors I read when I first downloaded the Kindle app for my (now passed on to a grandchild) iPad2. Gosh, I loved the app, the book, and that iPad. Fast forward a few years, and I have quite a few ebooks, a newer iPad, and more time to read.  I recently purchased Not With A Whimper: Producers. Despite the odd title, this novel fits into the “universe” that I first explored when I read Courtesan by Boulter.

I was prepared to love this book, as I have generally liked most of the books I’ve read by the author, and the description seemed interesting. However, as I slogged through the early parts, I wasn’t so sure. Somewhere around the 50% read portion I got seriously interested, but in the interest of not spoiling it, I won’t say why. The rest of the book was a quick read.

The main character of this story is a not quite 19 year old Larry Clement, and in many ways this story reminds me of the coming of age yarns that were the foundation of Robert Heinlein’s science fiction writing. Larry is a very unhappy young man, but a fundamentally good person, as the story opens. His girl, Sandra, and his fellow students are not fleshed out too well, but the relationship with his father is a main focus, so dear old dad, aka Robert Clement, is also a well thought out character. While I think that Courtesan is among this author’s best works, it isn’t necessary that readers read it first, as this novel stands alone quite well. However, the stories do share some characters, so I enjoyed the connections.

When I last reviewed a story by Boulter, I commented that his works don’t have many reviews and seem to have few readers. That’s a shame, because this guy has plenty of stories in him, good ones, and in a time when there is such a dearth of new material for readers, he deserves more reviews and the readers that write them. Indeed, anyone who likes science fiction or simply a good story should check out D. A. Boulter’s $2.99 Kindle books. Honestly, that’s cheap reading— less than a decent hamburger!

About that new page— WIP

Pam on Dragon webI’m always writing something, but I don’t always publish what I write. Sometimes I write letters (sent and unsent) or emails or fragments. I suppose most people do that. But, I also have manuscripts in progress, and sometimes I get bogged down with those because I truly don’t know if there would be any interest in them. So, I am going to try posting a few excerpts, and if the traffic and/or comments indicate interest, the encouragement might be enough to push me out of procrastination and into finishing mode.

The first WIP is actually one of the most recent, a non-fiction book about motorcycle touring. My first thought was to publish an e-booklet on restaurants in my neck of the woods. Then I thought about creating a blog on motorcycle touring. After a bit more consideration, I asked hubby to read and comment on a manuscript that combines the two topics into one, which is currently at about 7K words. If I go with the original plan, this will be one of a series of short ebooks, which might look like this:

Ride to Eat— in Northeastern Georgia

Ride to Eat— in Western North Carolina

Ride to Eat— in Middle Georgia

As it stands now, the writing part is going fairly well, but I need to add maps, and that is a bit of an issue for an ebook, but I’m still working on it.

Weight loss apps— my experience

scaleI guess the subtitle is Weight Watchers vs. My Fitness Pal, as those are the only two I have used enough to review in a meaningful manner.

Quite a long time back, I went to Weight Watchers and lost a goodly amount of weight, but I didn’t reach any goal. My thought at the time was that I had learned so much that I would be able to maintain my loss, and for a time I was somewhat successful. Fast forward a decade plus, and I was shopping the big girl’s section, which wasn’t much fun. Also, I became seriously concerned about the health effects of carrying so much extra weight around.

So, I joined Weight Watchers again, and wow, had things changed. Everyone was using the “app” and the meetings were half as long as before, because things were so high-tech. But, the core principles are the same: foods are assigned points, based on both calories and how “healthy” they are, and users are assigned a point target, based on certain individual criteria. Instead of looking up point values in a book, as we did before, the app can assist, even allowing users to scan a bar code on a package. (I don’t use that feature much, because fresh foods like blackberries and tomatoes do not have bar codes.) Anyway, the program works, and I lost even more weight than I did the first time, albeit over a longer period of time. (Maturity sucks.)

As I was losing, hubby lost quite a bit, too. He and his doctor were happy with the change, so hubby decided to go “all in” on weight loss, but he was not about to pay for it. So, he decided to try the “My Fitness Pal” app, as the basic version is free, and it works quite well. Since I do most of the cooking, he was always asking me for assistance in recording his food intake, which weight loss programs call “tracking,” so I ended up doing both WW and MFP for a few months. I’m currently still at my goal weight, which means as a lifetime member, I can use the WW app for free, but instead I am using MFP.

Both apps are very good, but for losing weight and learning how to do that, I would certainly stick with the WW app. By weighting (pun intended) certain foods, the app not only tracks users, but steers them toward healthy eating habits and better portion control. One excellent feature of the WW app is the recipes, which help users come up with a healthy recipe for whatever ingredients are entered. So, if I see pork tenderloin on sale, I can open the app and summon several healthy recipes right on my phone or iPad. However, the nutrition reports offered by the MFP app does a much better job of showing excesses or deficiencies in what I’ve been eating. For instance, I’ve been using MFP to help me keep up with how much protein I am eating, as I am a serious carb lover, and I might eat too many carbs and too little protein without those handy reports.

In our high tech world, it is quite easy to eat too much and move too little, so apps such as Weight Watchers and My Fitness Pal are very helpful.

“Current Events Day”

coachWhen my kids were kids, I often assisted with homework, but I made a tactical error and told them I’d actually do any thing we determined to be “busy work.” (At the time, I still believed in the integrity of most educators.) My daughter had a couple of coach/ social studies teachers in high school who would set aside one day a week for “current events” which basically meant the students were to bring in a news story and read it to the class. There were absolutely no criteria assigned, nor was there any grade. Since the teacher was just using this instead of doing any work himself, this qualified as a mom task, and I decided to use the weirdest items I could find.

As it is has been a while since my kids were in school, I no longer read so much weird news, but sometimes a headline just grabs my attention. So, I just read a news story which would have made the cut for current events day at JHS. What do y’all think of this one? Call 911!

The Gift Horse is still available as an eBook

gifthorse-frontcoverMy debut novel was written over the course of several years; I have laughingly called it “my stress relief book” because when I had a bad day at work, I would stay up late at night and make sure my main character, Angie, had a worse day! Anyway, while I don’t view it as my best work, I have a strong affection for this twisted tale of misguided affection.

Here’s the “blurb” from the back cover:

If Angela Donalson – a young woman, orphaned, living in poverty, with brains and ambition – were granted three wishes, she would want wealth, an education, and a family.

Marc Avery has always had everything he ever wanted. Now he wants a girl for his pleasure, a girl no one will miss.

When, in a bizarre twist of fate, Angie is abducted and held at Avery’s remote Tennessee estate, she initially tries to thwart her captors. Unable to gain her freedom, Angie finds herself trading her morals to meet the challenges presented to her each day. As she comes to know the man behind her abduction, and comes to recognize that he can provide her with more than she ever dreamed possible, Angie faces dilemmas which will determine not only how she lives, but if she lives at all.

Combining a dynamic plot, remarkable characters, and a setting in the deep South, Pamela J. Dodd takes her readers for a wild ride on The Gift Horse.

After I did some minor edits to the original published version of Trinity on Tylos, which is now exclusively an Amazon Kindle title, I decided to do the same thing with my debut novel, The Gift Horse. Before I put it out to pasture, I really would like to do some web 2.0 marketing for it. However, the nice folks at Booklocker suggested that I pull the print version but leave the eBook alone. Since The Gift Horse is available on multiple eBook platforms (pdf, Nook, as well as Kindle) folks who want it should not have any trouble purchasing it. Of course, the few print copies that are still around (I have a few in a box somewhere) are all that will be printed. So, if you own one of the print copies, it might be worth something some day.

Until then, the original tale is available for $2.99, which is less than the price of a deluxe hamburger.